Dozens of refugees died after a ship sank in Greek waters | Refugees

Greek authorities have said dozens of refugees are believed to have died after a boat carrying up to 50 people, according to a witness, sank off the island of Folegandros in the second major loss of life in the Mediterranean in A few days.

Nearly 24 hours after the rescue operation began on Tuesday evening, coastguard officials said it was unlikely that any survivors would be found.

“The efforts will continue but in very cold and very deep waters, the chances of finding someone [alive] are decreasing by the hour, ”said Nikos Kokkalas, spokesman for the Hellenic Coast Guard. “Our fear is that most of them simply failed to get off the boat and would have sunk with it to the bottom of the ocean.”

Rescuers found only the body of one man late Wednesday, he said.

The incident comes less than five days after UN migration officials said 164 people drowned off the Libyan coast, now the dominant transit point for people fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East.

Crossing attempts from the anarchic oil-rich country have increased in recent months amid an unprecedented crackdown on refugees in Tripoli, its capital.

On Friday and Saturday, in two separate shipwrecks, rescuers recovered the corpses of those who drowned when wooden boats from Libya to Italy capsized in rough seas. The loss of life has brought the death toll among those using the central Mediterranean route to around 1,500 since the start of the year, according to the International Organization for Migration.

A growing number of migrant boats are also heading to Italy, via Greek territorial waters from Turkey, with nearly 12,000 crossings recorded this year.

“What we are seeing with increasing intensity is that people are attempting such trips in all seasons,” said Kokkalas. “It’s no longer a seasonal phenomenon that only occurs in spring and summer.

The Greek Transport Ministry said a naval frigate, four coastguard vessels, three Super Puma helicopters, a C-130 military transport aircraft, three passing ships and three private craft participated in the search operation. and Wednesday rescue. All were detached after the sinking of the boat around 8 p.m. Tuesday. Hellenic Air Force helicopters were to continue to roam the area through the night.

Earlier, authorities found 12 people who had managed to escape in an inflatable boat that had been tied to the ill-fated vessel. The survivors, who included a woman and four teenagers, were mainly from Iraq although three Syrians and two Egyptians were also among them, officials said. A survivor told the Greek Coast Guard the boat started to take on water after experiencing engine problems and up to 50 people could have been on board.

Giorgos Skordilis, an official with the Ministry of Expeditions, said witnesses described the sinking of the boat within minutes. “It was obviously totally unseaworthy and started to sink quickly,” he said. “From what we understand, it was full of people.”

Although arrivals have dropped dramatically with the militarization of its land and sea borders – and, according to rights groups, the persistent “push-backs” of boats carrying asylum seekers – Greece remains an initial destination for numerous attempts to enter the EU.

During a regional tour earlier this month, Pope Francis described the Mediterranean as a “graveyard without tombstones” and blasted Europe for toughening its border policies for the sole purpose of driving away claimants. ‘asylum.

“Those [shipwrecks] are a strong reminder that people continue to risk their lives on desperate journeys in search of safety, ”said Stella Nanou, spokesperson in Athens for the UN refugee agency. “They stress the need to create more regular routes. If there were legal and secure avenues, people seeking refuge would have a choice. “

Right now, she said, people were faced with the “impossible dilemma” of having to decide whether to risk their lives by staying in their home country or embark on dangerous journeys. with “the slightest chance” of going to Europe.

NGOs are increasingly concerned about the intensity of the deterrence policies adopted at the EU’s external borders. In recent months, Greece has erected a 40 km long steel wall along the land border it shares with Turkey and deployed a sonic cannon capable of firing bursts of deafening noise as part of a EU concerted strategy to deter migrants.